Qualities of a marketing badass (& how to become one)

"OH, COME ON", I hear as a pile of cocktail napkins come flying towards my face. I'm sitting at a table with at least 10 of my longtime "Marketing Heroes" and new friends. "Just admit it. Admit you think he's a douchebag." they echo, berating me for my lack of opinion on the aforementioned douchebaggery of a fellow panelist of mine from Internet Summit 2015 (#ISUM15), a conference for Internet tech, media, and marketing buffs alike. I was honored to attend and speak at the #ISUM15 conference in Raleigh, NC this past week, and alongside a number of my longtime heroes (people I admire and look to as leaders in my industry).

My first day arriving at the conference I was actually late, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, due to a 30-minute search and rescue party I performed in the parking deck to recover my misplaced car keys. (Yep, that's pretty much my M.O.) Flustered from the time I had spent on my hands and knees crawling through the gunk beneath my driver's seat, I was a bit distracted upon finally entering the conference. The opening keynote was being delivered by Jason Miller, Global Content Marketing Leader of LinkedIn and resident Content Marketing BADASS. Upon finally making it into the auditorium, mid-keynote, the first thing I see on the screen is a fathead of Gene Simmons. Realizing that this speech has a Heavy Metal theme I immediately think, this talk is not directed at me, and pull up my Twitter app. Just as soon as I had begun to craft the perfect "great to be here at #ISUM15" welcome tweet I hear something that instantly catches my ear and reels me  right back into Miller's speech.

If you are too afraid to share your opinion, then you are in the wrong industry.
— Jason Miller, Global Content Marketing Leader at LinkedIn

Excuse me, say that again? 

If you want to be in content marketing, then you have to have an opinion. Take a stance on something and make it known. Sharing it will only benefit your content.

Before I knew it I was nose deep in my Notes app furiously journaling the remainder of the keynote address.

In my 48 hours at #ISUM15 I played ping pong, made new friends, developed a newfound respect for both veganism and heavy metal music, and probably drank more than most professional development books would recommend. (Oops!) All that aside, I gained more knowledge in my brief 48 hour stint at #ISUM15 than I have at any other conference I've attended this year.

Ever been told, "You've got to 'dress for success'"? Or, how about this one, "fake it till you make it"? Instead of spending my time brown nosing and self-promoting at #ISUM15 I spent the week making friends and surrounding myself with the kind of Badass Internet Marketers that I, myself, aspire to be. And, although the thought may have crossed my mind, I can proudly say I resisted any urge I might have had to fangirl finagle my way into a selfie with Rand Fishkin, legendary SEO wizard of MOZ and longtime marketing hero of your's truly. You see, before the conference even began I made a decision. I decided that rather than place my marketing heros on a pedestal, untouchable and out of reach, I challenged myself to get on their level. So, I did just that. putting on my inner marketing badass hat and, once and for all, finding out what qualities these rock stars possess that makes them so much more badass than me.                                                   What follows are my top takeaways from ISUM15.


I will be the first to admit that I am often my own worst enemy when it comes to thwarting my own success. Countless blogs I've authored have gone unposted. I've torn my website apart three (or more) times, because it suddenly falls short of a newfound perfectionism I've contracted in the last 24-hours. You name it I've made a roadblock out of it. Ironically, I earn a living as a consultant advising entrepreneurs, startups, and corporations alike on how best to represent their brand and exercise their voice online. It just goes to show, when making important decisions for your business it often helps to enlist the perspective of someone whose position is completely external to the problem, outside of your immediate team or company.

As you might guess, it's pretty much impossible to display one's life's work and achievements when hellbent on tearing apart his or her website every other week. Ok, so now you know. I am the worst when it comes to sharing my work. Originally a writer turned digital marketer I have written countless blogs, articles, emails, speeches, etc. never to see the light of day. Why? Because, I am my own worst enemy. As confident as I am in my ability to wield my craft I know there is always more to learn. The Internet Marketing industry is in a flux of rapid change, and that is always at the forefront of my mind. I hate the idea of opening myself, my brand, and especially my writing up to ridicule from my peers, my heroes, or worse, the viral web.


So, back to the pile of cocktail napkins flying towards my face as a group of my esteemed colleagues ridicule me into saying what I think. From there the table conversation only went downhill, as the person sitting next to me (who shall remain nameless) pipes in with a brilliant suggestion. "Man, too bad you were sitting too far away to lean over and slap him." With a loud burst of laughter bellowing from our 10+ person table the resident badasses sitting next to me quickly paint a reimagined scene that transforms the "agreeable" professional panel I participated in earlier that day into something more reminiscent of a scene from Maury.

You can imagine my surprise when the next words I hear are,

UM, YES! That’s exactly what I wanted you to do. You should have slapped him.

Of course I'm thinking, hmm... ok, or NO! But, as I thought about all of the badass things I had seen each of my marketing heroes do that week, and without fear of retaliation from their 3,000+ member audiences, let alone anyone else, I began to realize that my friends were onto something. Now don't get me wrong. I do not recommend turning your peers into your punching bag as a great platform for promotion. However, despite their colorful example, my marketing heroes made a very valid point: people love to be entertained

Your audience wants a thrill, they want a spectacle. Being agreeable is boring. How often do you see Switzerland in the press? People want a discussion. They want heated debate, and all so they can decide what the truth is for themselves. People love to be entertained. In fact, according to a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans want to be entertained so much that in one year the average person will spend almost as much, if not more, on Entertainment indulgences as he or she will spend on Healthcare. (original source cited here)

BOOM! And, it all started to click.

If you want to be in content marketing, then you have to have an opinion.

Suddenly I felt like I was the one getting slapped in the face with my own complacency. Clearly the universe was sending me a message, because this turned out to be the reoccurring theme of next 48 hours at #ISUM15.


SEO in a Two Algorithm World by Rand Fishkin

No shame in ruffling a few feathers

SEO wunderkind and phenomenal human being, Rand Fishkin, is no stranger to causing a stir. In fact, I think he actually welcomes the opposition, as I found do most other Internet Marketing Badasses. In his keynote speech Rand shared his beloved hobby of being a Google Search antagonist with the crowd (pictured above is a slide from Rand's keynote presentation, SEO in a Two Algorithm World). But, rather than, operate in secrecy Rand seems to welcome the opposition from Google. That's because Rand is smart. He knows how to read between between the lines. Rand knows that if his actions make a blip on Google's radar, ding ding, that means he's doing something right. I think we can agree there is no other word to describe the gumption required to take on the world's leading internet giant other than the phrase, that's BADASS.

The interaction you want to achieve with your audience is no different! If your objective is to foster true engagement, then it's going to require you to invite some welcomed opposition from your audience into the conversation. A real easy way to know if your content is reaching your target audience? Provide them the perfect opportunity to strike up a debate. If your invitation gains little traction it is a good indication that you are not reaching the right audience, and you ought to go back to the drawing board to test out a few other things before rethinking your channel strategy.

Hello, have you ever read the comment thread on one of Kim Kardashian's Instagram posts? She may not be a marketing hero of mine, but I'll give it to her. Kim has built a personal brand so polarizing she racks up comments like Tyga. Trolling Instagram bullies and KardashiFANS alike will go head to head in comment after comment to defend or oppose their opinion of the reality TV star's brand, photo, life choices, you name it. Nothing appears to be off limits and everything seems as though it is up for debate.

Few people can resist an opportunity to share their opinion

By now, I think we can all agree that few people can resist an opportunity to say what they think. And, if you're trying to climb the ranks of Internet Marketing BADASSDOM, than you certainly can't afford to miss out on an opportunity to exercise your voice, and amplify your personal brand.

The situation is no different when it comes to creating content that drives audience engagement. In his #ISUM15 keynote, Jason Miller shared his love of Rock 'n' Roll music with an almost entirely Rock themed slide deck. During his speech Miller shared an example of a blog he read sometime back entitled, "10 reasons why Led Zeppelin is the greatest rock band of all time". The blog's comment thread lit up for days while head banging heavy metal rockers across the digital web chimed in to voice their opinions. Most often defending their favorite bands in opposition to that of the author. Miller, himself, admitted to leaving nearly 32 comments on the blog. Why? Because, we all thrive on the drama. Our attention can seldom be lost amidst the thrill of a heated debate.

IN CONCLUSION- unleash your inner badass

Most of all during my time at #ISUM15 I learned that what makes my Internet Marketing Heroes so badass is an air of confidence, defiance, and a slight rebelliousness that is so inherent in each person's work and personal brand. So, contrary to popular belief Rand Fishkin's perfectly sculpted hipster mustache doesn't actually equip him with superhuman marketing powers. I learned that even more than being a badass marketer each of my marketing heroes is first and foremost a really cool, genuine human being. That's something no amount of marketing smoke and mirrors can create. What I learned is that your personal brand is just that: a reflection of YOU. Right or wrong, the good, the bad, and the ugly, it's all yours. So, you might as well own it. My glimpse behind the curtain taught me that I am, and can be, just as badass as the marketing guru sitting next to me. And, by standing up for your opinions, so can you.